As inventor of the patented Safetray – a tray that stays soundly and helpfully attached to the server’s hand, thanks to a retractable clip on the underside – Alison Grieve is continually looking for new markets. Having spent two years developing her product and establishing it in the US, the Middle East and Australia, Alison, who is also the company’s CEO, wanted to secure the future of her business and build on some important early gains. “We had some significant wins,” she says. “We sold a license to San Jamar, a leading US food service business, to manufacture and sell the Safetray in the US and Canada. For all other territories, we manufacture and distribute the product ourselves from the factory in Scotland. But the San Jamar license enhances credibility and provides another revenue stream.”

While South America and Brazil in particular had not featured on her early business plans, Alison still recognised the possibilities they offered. The market has similarities to the Middle East, where Safetray has made significant inroads into the hotel and hospitality sector. “We had also just gone through an exercise to establish patents in different countries, including Brazil,” she says. “We knew there were massive opportunities in South America, but had no real idea how you would go about making a first approach into a market like Brazil.”

Networking

For Alison, everything about the Breakthrough trade mission to Brazil was helpful. Networking with entrepreneurs from the other companies on the trip meant delegates could exchange notes on their experiences. “The group was completely varied,” says Alison. “A lot of the companies were more developed than ours and were at a later stage than us. That in itself was inspiring.”

“We now have a really good understanding of Brazil and what we would need to do to make it work. We have made contacts there and so we are significantly ahead.” Alison Grieve, CEO Safetray Products Ltd.

While in Brazil, the various experts she met – tax accountants, lawyers and logistics specialists – were a source of invaluable market intelligence. “You hear a lot about the potential of Brazil,” she says. “Sometimes the best learning you can have is actually not to commercialise in a country. You do have to look at the complexities and work out whether you have the resources to penetrate a market like Brazil.”

Potential buyers

Safetray attracted interest from the Marriott, where delegates were staying in Rio de Janeiro, as well as potential buyers they met in São Paulo. “It is a question of understanding how we might fulfil those orders,” says Alison. “The import taxation is just so high that it might make the product price disproportionately high. But at least we know that there is interest, and we know there are opportunities.”

Brazil itself may not be a realistic short-term prospect for Safetray, but exporting to South America is definitely part of Alison’s plan for the next three years. It could be that the company will work to establish itself in neighbouring countries and export via those.

Alison believes export success must be grounded in thorough research. “I think you have to be quite careful as a small company,” she says. “We now have a really good understanding of Brazil and what we would need to do to make it work. We have made contacts there and so we are significantly ahead. We haven’t entered any overseas market without visiting, attending trade shows and putting considerable groundwork and research into that effort. With a little entrepreneurial skill and problem solving, we should get over the hurdles.”